In yet another twist on the winding road of 2020, Auburn’s game against Mississippi State in Starkville scheduled for this Saturday has now been postponed. It has been tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 12 which the conference set up as a universal open date built-in for all SEC schools to handle just such an occasion. Apparently, the Bulldogs are dealing with some significant COVID issues to go along with their completely dysfunctional offense. I’m sure the Tigers would much rather be playing football this weekend, but I doubt anyone will complain about two weeks to heal up before the final stretch run.
While I’ve got a break in the action, it’s a good time to opine about a developing story that involves Auburn on the periphery. Malik Willis was a 6-foot-1, 188-pound member of the 2017 AU recruiting class from Roswell, Georgia listed as an athlete. He opened a lot of eyes during the A-Day game that year with his athletic ability and strong arm, but was somewhat of an afterthought as transfer Jarrett Stidham was destined to be the starter. Willis played in 15 games between 2017 and 2018 rushing for 309 yards and throwing for 69 yards. He scored three touchdowns. It was perfectly obvious Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix were going to compete for the starting job in 2019, so Willis exited stage left and transferred to Liberty University coached by former Ole Miss head honcho Hugh Freeze. He would have to sit out the 2019 season after not receiving an immediate eligibility waiver from the NCAA.
The Liberty Flames are now 7-0 on the season and ranked No. 22 in the nation, which is two spots above the Auburn Tigers. Malik Willis has rushed for 603 yards on 90 carries and thrown for 1,339 yards completing 67.1% of his passes. He would obviously be a considerable long shot but has even received some talk as a potential Heisman candidate. Obviously, the Flames don’t play anywhere close to an SEC schedule, but they have beaten two ACC teams (Syracuse & Virginia Tech) this year. I know every Tiger fan I have talked to is loudly cheering for Willis and hoping he continues to exceed all expectations. What makes this story so much more interesting is how much Willis reminds Auburn fans of Nick Marshall.
Marshall was a tremendous athlete that fell into a perfect situation at a perfect time. His athleticism at the QB position combined with the innovation of Gus Malzahn (and yes he was innovative back then) led to a practically unstoppable offense in 2013 and 2014. Of course, all the ingredients were there like a very good offensive line, a terrific running back in Tre Mason and above average receivers. After those two ultra-productive offensive seasons, Malzahn brought in QB Sean White and QB Tyler Queen in the next two classes. Why? They wouldn’t even give a serious look to a guy named Lamar Jackson who openly wanted to come to Auburn. After 2014, Malzahn veered away from the most productive offense he ever put on the field on the Plains. Malik Willis has proven he could have been a perfect complement to the system. I guess we’ll never know what might of been.
Andy Graham is a longtime weekly columnist for The Outlook.